In 2012, I landed my first official, paid content marketing position. It was for a local print shop in Kissimmee, Florida. Despite having no paid marketing experience, I secured an interview thanks to a creative email marketing campaign; and I secured the job thanks to my SEO, blogging, and social media experience — acquired through various internships — as well as my studies and skills in journalism. My soon-to-be-boss took a chance on me because I had storytelling chops — and he saw that the advertising industry was trending hard towards content.
Turns out, my boss had foretold the future. He understood that the future of marketing and advertising is flexible, agile, and most of all, open-minded. He disrupted conventional notions about what a marketer or marketing team has to look like.
Content marketing is now the status quo. In 2016, 76 percent of B2C businesses reported that they used content marketing.
What this doesn’t mean, though, is that businesses are using content marketing well. Nearly 40 percent of businesses qualify their content marketing strategies as relatively immature — and only 11 percent of those businesses find their content marketing to be effective. Long story short: Businesses aren’t creating the kind of content that consumers will trust and love.
Why? Because traditional marketers and their team structures don’t support the creation of that content.
In order to succeed in content, marketing orgs need to take lessons from publishers. When brands begin to catch on, they’ll reinvent their marketing departments as lean, mean multimedia editorial teams that are agile enough to restructure on an as-needed basis. (Notice how I didn’t use the word “departments”? I did that on purpose.)
Out with the “Marketing Director” and in with the “Managing Editor”
At the head of the operation will be a tough managing editor, who has the skill set of a journalist but the mindset of a marketer, plus the foresight of a tech visionary and the ability to spot talent a light year away.
Here’s what their job description will look like:
- Create and maintain the brand’s editorial calendar. Maybe you’ll get creative and open it up to readers to contribute.
- Create strict guidelines detailing your qualitative standards for value-adding, educational content. Publish it on a page on our resource hub, so that writers know the standards they’ll be held to, and build trust with readers.
- Recruit an army of freelance writers. Use your connections to bring us experts. Demand not just writing chops, but sizable followings on social networks. Your writers will be required to share their pieces on all their social networks and communities they frequent. These writers may even have an email list of their own to send their stories too. Note: you’ll be able to hire them because they’ll respect you and want to work for you.
- Run corporate communications from your own byline. Leverage the relationship with readers you’ve developed through content — because a faceless voice emanating from the communications department doesn’t work anymore. Take Mike Volpe, former CMO of HubSpot’s word for it: “When you hire someone with their own brand, it rubs off on your brand.”
Let me introduce you to a world-class, real-world example
Camille Ricketts, Head of Content and Marketing at the VC firm First Round, acts as Editor-in-Chief of its digital magazine The Review. She’s a shining example of this new role. Ricketts began her career as a journalist at The Wall Street Journal in London, which, she said, was a natural enough segue from college, where she was editor of the Stanford Daily.
“Being a reporter taught me how to write really well really fast. It was a crash course in hitting deadlines and helped me think analytically about how stories and narratives should be organized,” Ricketts said.
From there, Ricketts applied her narrative skill set to public relations at Tesla Motors, where she had to hone subject matter expertise as well as a strategy around what to share. Then, she moved to First Round, where she’s able to bring all these threads together.
“I get to write copious amounts for The Review and interview brilliant people. I also get to help the firm shape and project its identity in the industry. I’m extremely proud of the work we do for entrepreneurs, and I love to find new ways to talk about it,” Ricketts said.
Fill out the team with the *best* agile talent available
- Writers (obviously): You’ll need a stable of trained writers who are genuinely excited about writing content for you and your brand, because they’ve realized that writing for brands means interesting work and competitive pay.
- Copy Editors: You’ll need a handful of steady copy editors. Because polished work is good work.
- Creatives (designers, illustrators, videographers, etc.): You’ll need them to craft custom graphics for use on all channels. Why? Because blog articles with images get 94 percent more views. Because 63 percent of social media is made up of images, you best not be sharing stock images that everyone and their mom has already seen twice. You’ll especially not want to use them after reading this point by ConversionXL.
“If the stock photo you’re using is at all similar to another website that created a negative experience for the visitor, subconsciously, they’re projecting their negative experiences onto your stock photograph, reducing trust and adding friction to the process.”
- Engineers: The best teams will also employ a few freelance developers on an as-needed, per-project-basis. These programmers will code interactive content, like this microsite, which is marketing a book, and this guide, which is marketing material design. They’ll also build helpful “tools,” such as HubSpot’s Marketing Grader and Crew’s How Much to Make an App.
A better team means better content
It’s impossible to pretend that cold blogs and press releases drive visitors to do anything other than close their browser tabs and roll their eyes at you from behind their screens. Yet, professionals talk themselves into believing this fairy tale all the time. That’s why content marketing isn’t effective for many brands.
Remember: the only way to get a [good] reputation is to consistently provide value for people over a sustained period of time.
A company blog is essentially a vector of publishing content that provides value to consumers. And one sure-fire way to provide someone value is to teach them something that they can’t learn anywhere else (at least not for free). The data shows that consumers today are hungry to learn things — especially skills needed for work.
According to a report by Degreed, nearly 85 percent of people said they learn things for work by searching online, at least once per week, and nearly 70 percent of them learn by reading blog articles weekly and asking for recommendations from peers and mentors. Maybe that’s because colleges don’t teach students how to actually do things in the workplace. Regardless, this presents a massive opportunity for brands — the opportunity to give consumers what colleges aren’t — a useful education that will help them at work.
And you best believe that consumers will remember your brand, if you teach them how to do valuable stuff on a consistent basis. In fact, they’ll be your loyal advocate for years to come.
For some brands, the future is now
Anyone who knows me knows I have an unhealthy obsession with a few brands — like HubSpot, for instance — because its blog was the first blog to teach me about inbound marketing. HubSpot’s blog played a critical part on my road to becoming a full-stack marketer. And because of this, I tell everyone I meet, how much I love the company, its resources and its products — to the extent that people actually ask me if I work for them. (I did at one point, but I don’t anymore.) HubSpot’s resources center is effective because it has valuable, in-depth, can’t-find-anywhere-else content — templates, guides, ebooks, webinars, etc.
You’re probably thinking that aforementioned content types will require more effort than those 400-word listicles you’re churning out. And you’re right — these will require more (or a reallocation of) resources — but you have no choice. As Janessa Lantz points out in her recent post, attention is too scarce to risk it on low-impact content. Good thing you’ve got that managing editor to focus on keeping your content fresh, reliable, and informative.